SpikeTV // 2008 // 276 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // February 14th, 2009
Every deal can turn deadly.
Except that none of them actually do, because if they did, there'd be no show. D.E.A.: Detroit, in other words, is just what you'd expect from a reality series from Spike: all bluster and action with little consequence. There are plenty of drugs, dealers, guns, money, and running, but the storytelling is so shallow and repetitive that you'll be hard-pressed to care about any of it. For all the talk of life-and-death issues, this series is pretty forgettable.
D.E.A.: Detroit follows the same basic template as Cops and its ilk. A team from the Drug Enforcement Agency known as Group 14 is followed around by cameras as they go on busts, undercover buys, and surveillance runs in Detroit. This two-disc set compiles all six episodes, but it really may as well have just had three. Or even just one, since they're all the same. Group 14 suits up for a bust, Group 14 crashes some drug dealer's house, and then Group 14 does the undercover buys or stakeouts for the next bust. Even the team members are interchangeable; they can all be described as "the ones with long hair," "the ones with short hair," and "the ones with no hair."
Part of the reason for the show's repetitiveness is the way it's edited. Instead of showing us more about each agent so that viewers can get an idea of who they are and what their personalities are like, we just get brief interview snippets, all of which boil down to the same thing: their work is dangerous, they sometimes get scared, and every day they go home is a good day. Before a bust, one agent casually mentions that he's missing out on his wedding anniversary, and it would have been interesting to hear from his wife, to see what life is like for her. For that matter, what exactly makes these guys want to risk their lives for their job every day, especially when even they admit it doesn't really make any difference in the long run? You'll never know from this series. Similarly, though it's a safe bet that much of their work is tedious, involving paperwork and investigation, all you'll see here are the busts and chases. That's certainly the sort of cheap visual that will appeal to Spike's core audience, but it gets downright numbing after a while. How many shots of doors being cracked open and magazines being slapped into guns does anyone really need?
At the same time, there's also a suspicion that the show is as monotonous as it is because that's how the D.E.A. wants it to be. It's genuinely disconcerting how all of the agents use the exact same sound bites when discussing their jobs, even when they're supposed to be opening up about their inner thoughts. Clearly, they've all had public relations training to ensure they don't dare slip up and actually reveal something that makes them stand out from one another. It's also probably not an accident that the D.E.A. ensured that all the busts seen were, for all their sleaze and illegality, rather sanitized. Almost all the perpetrators are young single men with no families, and for all the supposed tension and drama, there is not a single shot fired at any point in the series. The one notable moment occurs in the last episode when one dealer jumps out of a second-story window rather than get caught, but he just lands in the arms of another agent who arrests him. Considering how much the packaging brags about how gritty and uncensored this show is, D.E.A.: Detroit packs less punch than a middling episode of Law & Order. In a move that especially demonstrates just how gutless this show really is, all of the profanities are bleeped out even on this DVD release.
Ultimately, D.E.A.: Detroit is hardly the searing look at street crime it thinks it is. The show isn't necessarily boring, not with all the jump-cut editing, loud music, and flashy shots of guns and running. It's just superficial and pedestrian. Turning the D.E.A. into a real-life Michael Bay movie isn't really doing them any favors no matter what Spike thinks. At least the fancy editing and showy graphics do make this show a bit of eye candy for crime buffs. The DVD set's sole extra, an episode of another Spike police reality series called Real Vice Cops: Uncut, demonstrates how tacky and low-rent D.E.A. would look with a lower production budget. It's so ugly that you'll feel like taking a shower after watching it. D.E.A.: Detroit itself looks and sounds nice (especially with a nice anamorphic 16:9 transfer and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix), but it's guilty of taking a serious subject and reducing it to cheap gimmickry. Anyone who wants to learn about what the life of a D.E.A. agent is really like would do better to read Robert Stutman's autobiography Dead on Delivery instead. Anyone who wants an improved life in general would do better to avoid the Spike network in its entirety.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 276 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Real Vice Cops episode